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Fallout 4 is Unacceptable on PC

Don Parsons / November 18, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Gaming, Opinions

It’s November, the biggest month of the year for video game releases, especially in the AAA market. Lining up to launch for the holiday seasons, the big guns bring out the huge titles to bear and many of them receive acclaim from critics and fans alike. People love their favorite franchises, and oftentimes will give extra space to a company or series that they like than to other games or companies. A problem that would cause fans to crucify one company might get ignored in another case.

In particular here, I’m talking about Fallout 4, which is in a poor state on PC, and if it came from anyone other than Bethesda, there would be a large outcry over the issues with it. Lots of big PC games with fan bases have gotten huge outcries for issues similar to Fallout 4‘s—most recently perhaps Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and the issues it has had. Let’s be clear, Fallout 4 while not in a good state on PC is playable and is not in the Batman: Arkham Knight tier of unplayability.

Note here, we’re looking at stuff predominantly on the technical and port side of things. My issues with gameplay, story, and world work will await another piece, but the focus here is on those issues that tend towards being more of an objective failure in the use of technology.

  • Failing to maintain key promises

Let’s start here with a big promise that was given by Bethesda to PC users before launch. They stated that the game would not be restricted in frame rate or resolution. Just in case you don’t remember said statement, here is Bethesda’s official Twitter tweeting about the subject: 

Now technically, this is true. There are ways to unlock the resolution and FPS in the .ini files to get them where you’d like. The bigger part is, in my opinion, this statement would mean that these features would be properly implemented in the game and work well. That is sadly not the case here, and it brings to mind a certain video …

Fallout 4 still uses the same physics engine as Skyrim, which was locked at 60 FPS until modders got at it and then promptly put it back on as they found out that Skyrim‘s physics engine was tied to the frame rate lock. In saying it wouldn’t be limited in any way, it was implied that they had fixed those issues and made it unlocked by default right? Well, no and no. The game still suffers from having an engine that ties its physics to frame rate, meaning that if you speed the game up and let it run free, the game’s physics breaks down as it keeps going faster and faster animation speeds. Additionally, if you decide that you don’t care about it, you can’t just turn off the default frame rate lock in menus, instead you have to go and edit three separate .ini files or use a mod that is set up to do so.

As for the resolution, by default the game’s launcher supports up to 1080p, which is a far cry from “not limited in any way.” Instead, just like with the frame rate, you have to go launch the .ini minigame and dance around, modifying three separate files and setting them to read only. To make matters worse, these are basically unsupported resolutions, and the HUD fails to scale by default, meaning that you can end up with a tiny UI unless you go modify those files or use a mod to do so. As a side note, doing that .ini modification also hampers your ability to modify other settings in game, because while it will stay for the rest of that session, it won’t write to the .ini file what your new default will be as those are now read only. That is the only way that the game can save and, remember that you want 4k or unrestricted FPS. Yes, that’s right. To get the unrestricted FPS and resolution you were told about, you actively degrade the ability to modify things like volume, being forced to adjust those with each new launch of the game.

  • Options Menu is lacking key features

Speaking of the options menu, frame rate and resolution aren’t the only things expected in a competent port that are lacking from this game’s option menu. First of all, the game requires you to set many of the options through the launcher, and these settings are not modifiable in-game through the settings menu. This means that you’re often just playing blind to see what works and what doesn’t. This is something that lazy Unity engine games have and get torn apart for—there’s no reason that Bethesda should be given a pass, especially given the fact they have far more money to invest in their game than indie developers using Unity. Yes, Bethesda has done it before, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for a PC game in 2015.

Fallout 4 Options

Still, if that was all, we wouldn’t have nearly as much to complain about. If you could fix everything there, even the trial and error approach could work. Sadly, you can’t, and that means we’re going to be in for more of the .ini minigame—the exclusive bonus for those on PC who actually want the program to work! However, unlike FPS and resolution, not all things are fixable by winning a round of the .ini minigame as Bethesda has hardcoded more into this game than they have in the past. So let’s take a look here at some of the major missing options …

The game lacks a field of view slider or modifier, which for a game that is trying to be more and more of a first person shooter is a problem. Even the most recent Call of Duty release has added in FOV sliders for goodness sake. Making things worse, the default FOV is set to 70, and the game’s user interface is designed for consoles, meaning that it is large and unwieldy for those of us on PC. And, yes, it’s something that without modifying other files you can’t re-size either, which takes a lot of work or turning to the industrious modding community. 

Speaking of the modding community, while they are busy fixing this game into working shape as best they can, without proper tools even, they were given a surprising awakening when the launcher failed to show the data menu used for selecting ESP files. That’s an important thing in Bethesda games, as that’s how you load mods, but by default it’s turned off and again to turn it on you have to go modify the .ini files and then have to spot where it’s hidden. Our article on modding talks about it some more, but it’s a launcher issue that degrades the game for those who want to use the early mods that people are putting out there by making it unnecessarily complicated.

Modders Already Fixing Fallout 4 - data file managing faux mod

Yes, after turning on the .ini file you have to go hit that random spot to load mods …

Mouse acceleration is another one that is big in this case. By default the game has a pretty high rate of mouse acceleration, and again the option menu or the launcher lack the ability to turn it off. Why is that? Because Bethesda doesn’t care that you aren’t playing with a controller. Now mouse acceleration is in an odd spot on whether it’s fixable right now in the .ini files, as the main mod for fixing .ini files has disabled the option, and the primary guide on Steam has changed its advice on it. Combining the fast mouse with the lack of FOV sliders means even someone like me who doesn’t normally notice FOV sliders or care a ton about that area is beating the drum until TotalBiscuit can come pound on the point.

On graphical options, there are some issues here. Again, you have to use the launcher to get some of them, but here we are you can’t get all the options there instead getting some there and some in game in the presets. Some options that you may have expected from past Bethesda games are missing, especially for lower end machines. In particular, options like grass have been hard coded in, when they were previously possible to turn off in Skyrim and older games, allowing older PCs to run the game. Another example of an option that you might expect would be the ability to skip textures like you could in Skyrim, but that option is missing as well. Many other options require .ini modifying that you can find some guide options for. 

One of the most egregious issues though is in keybindings, which may seem a bit odd as the game does allow you to rebind keys. However, there are keys that are hard coded in some cases and can’t be rebound. The biggest offender there is the fact that bash/heavy attack are forced onto the same key as grenades, holding it down to get the grenade launch. While that makes sense for a controller—because there are a very small amount of inputs there—on keyboards it makes absolutely no sense with the large amount of available inputs. There are several other bindable keys like that, like the inability to separate perspective shifting from launching the workshop menu.

  • The User Interface is Awful

Bethesda has a history of designing its user interface for consoles first since Oblivion, and Fallout 4 is no exception to that at all. I hinted at that above with the key issue regarding bash/grenades, but that is far from the only major user interface issue that plagues the game, especially in the PC version. This area is a bit more subjective than most, but some of it is clearly a major issue for the game at times, especially in base building.

The UI has an issue that it’s sized for people who are sitting away from a screen. For players on consoles, a big user interface is necessary and the fact that they have a larger screen to work with makes it more acceptable. For PC users, though, they are typically close to the screen and looking at it, meaning that the user interface needs to be scaled down to be appropriate for it not to be unwieldy. It is not the case here, and you will often find it bulky. The worst offender of this being the perk chart, which is one of the most painful to navigate menus I have ever seen. 

Fallout 4 perks chart

When transferring things in the menus, you’ll see a lot of wasted space; that’s designed to keep it simple to see on console, but fails to work well for PCs, especially when you consider that in Fallout 4 you are being encouraged by the crafting mechanics to pick up everything. The only thing that saves this from being completely awful and closer to Skyrim level of bad PC user interface (there’s a reason SkyUI is the most popular mod for Skyrim) is that you can sort it by clicking on the arrows there. Which, by the way, is part of an absolutely lackluster tutorial experience that fails to explain so many things from the above example to obvious how-do-you-not-explain-it things like, say, how to use VATS. The setting menu similarly wastes a ton of space for no real reason.

Fallout 4 Tiny Options Menu

Fallout 4 UI Wasted Space

The user interface issues become most immediately apparent in Fallout 4‘s newest feature: town building. Beyond the fact that the game arbitrarily limits how big your towns can be and how many objects you can put in them, the interface for this is incredibly clunky and clearly built with a game pad in mind. The rotation option for it is built on holding down left or right mouse button to rotate to where you want it, the height modifications require you to hold down a button and awkwardly move, and some of the most damning assignments involve the fact that the placement button for it is hard coded to the same as the interact button. That means if you want to go in and out of houses and you have a door up, you have to exit your menu, and then reopen it outside or inside there because if you hit the button while over the door in the menu you’ll pick it up. Launching the workshop menu is another one, as that is hardcoded to the same button as perspective changing, meaning you have to hold down the button to launch it and can’t do so quickly.

Fallout 4 base building

Fallout 4‘s base building issues get worse when you try to assign people—something you’ll probably have to figure out for yourself if you haven’t read an online guide. To do that is a clumsy system where you have to have the workshop menu up, approach the person closely to select them, and then run over to where you want them to be assigned to put them on it there without hitting anything else in the meantime—and don’t you dare let a door get in your way. It’s worse when you consider that it is all through the activate button again and not a point and click system, showing how consoles again drove the development of the system. It’s at its worse when dealing with farming because if you feel like micromanaging what plants your settlers work on to get the food you want you have to assign each one individually. Yes, five separate times if you really want to micromanage and not just accept how the game assigns it there, instead of the PC tried and true multi-selection options out there that have been used for decades now in strategy games.

  • Awful Optimization

In a case of proclaiming water is wet, it is probably no surprise to most that Fallout 4 is poorly optimized. It’s been an issue for Bethesda games for a long while now and many of these issues we’re about to go over here date back a good while. Some of these issues are over a decade old for Bethesda, which begs the question: why haven’t they been fixed? It’s frustrating to see these same issues coming up again and again, especially when other developers would be smacked for them. But because it’s Bethesda and Bethesda games are always buggy, they get some sort of special allowance. 

Let’s start with the one that has been around for a decade and everyone is expecting: memory leaks. Yes, there are memory leaks in this game, and they are not the worst Bethesda has launched with, but you will find your game slowing down as it goes on in longer sessions. As per normal, the only solution to that is to restart the game, something that is more annoying than ever because of the fact that any options you change in game will have to be changed again because you probably edited your .ini files to make the game work better. It’s pathetic that after over a decade, the same major issue is appearing in this game. At this point I have to ask, if you can’t fix the issue in your engine, it might be time to consider finally building a new engine. Something new that doesn’t start with Gamebyro and the big flaws that you have experienced there.

Continuing on, we have something we talked about a bit earlier, the fact that Fallout 4 has long loading times. A decent amount of them in fact. In a time when we can get huge open areas in other games, Fallout 4 often wants to put up a loading screen when you enter a house or speak with someone in a town. This has a tendency to make visits to Diamond City in particular take longer than they really should as you wait anywhere from six to thirty seconds per loading screen, depending on if you have Fallout 4 installed on a SSD or not. The game does alleviate it some by having most of the people come outside during the day, meaning the amount of times you go inside is lesser than it might be otherwise, but it is still a problem the game has with those loading times throughout the game.

Fallout 4 Faceless One

One final point is that people have noted that while the game tends to not have huge frame drops in most locations outside of marathon sessions, one area where they do pop up is with interior lighting. That can cause inexplicable frame drops and stuttering in the game that isn’t really justified by the situation, especially given these are typically the smallest areas in the world. There is also some Nvidia technology in the game, making it worse for AMD users. As we saw with Batman: Arkham Knight, partnering with Nvidia doesn’t really mean anything for quality in PC ports. If you’re experiencing something less than a smooth 60 FPS, one option that seems to work for most people is to disable godrays in the settings menu.

We haven’t even gotten to the bugs that plague the game on all versions—things like clipping through objects for no reason, the player’s Pip-Boys randomly becoming invisible, alt-tabbing out of the game causing issues, hard crashes to the desktop being something people are accepting (“oh, I only had two crash to desktop” is something I read in multiple reviews), the subs not matching the spoken dialogue, getting randomly stuck, items not answering to commands, and as shown above, the faceless ones making an appearance inspired by Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Some of these issues will happen when you design an open world game, but it’s 2015 and we live in a world where The Witcher 3 and Mad Max can both manage to be huge open worlds, larger than Fallout 4‘s, and not have nearly as many issues that players reliably experience.

Fallout 4 I'm in my Car

I want to take the opportunity to counter the most common argument on broken Bethesda games: “mods will fix it.” In my opinion, the fact that modders can make a game like this work is something great for consumers, but it doesn’t mean that the poor launch day quality of the game should be accepted, nor should it get Bethesda off the hook of doing basic things like delivering on what they promised and supporting an uncapped FPS and higher resolutions. Mods should enhance and improve a game, but the unpaid modders should not be necessary to make the game competent and perform properly.

More About This Game

Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.